My second RAD self-defense class was Monday (click here to read about what RAD is, and the surprising lesson I learned in the first class). We reviewed the things we learned last week and went through quite a few new moves.
I want to pick up where I left off last week and expand a little on the idea of our voices as weapons, because one of our instructors made a comment that has really stuck with me. After we practiced some moves against instructors with pads (which, I gotta tell you, feels incredibly satisfying), one of my classmates said, “Wow, my hand really hurts.” I nodded, because mine did, too, and an instructor said, “You know, the thing with any of this is that if you’re going to be punching or kicking someone, odds are good that you’re going to get hurt, too.”
Of course, the idea is to minimize the pain, and have it be the result of your own proactive choices. Ending up assaulted, raped, or—heaven forbid—murdered is a whole lot worse than ending up with a sore hand or some bruises that left you able to get away to safety. Choosing to defend yourself is an act of power and strength, and if it happens to come with pain, well…I don’t know about you, but I’ll bet that while I was nursing those hypothetical bruises, I’d be damn proud of myself for having the guts and the knowledge to fight back and get myself the heck out of there.
We don’t defend ourselves verbally because we’re afraid we’ll get hurt if we do. I know I’m guilty of saying, “I’d really love to tell so-and-so to stop talking to me like that, but it’s not worth the effort because it’ll only make it worse.” In a physical self-defense context, that’s crazy talk, right on its face (though I have a feeling that many victims of violence make the mistake of going along for that very reason). But we adopt this position all the time in our personal relationships because we think it’s safer to keep letting someone beat up on us emotionally than it is to stand up for ourselves.
We may know that living/working/interacting with a particular person is really unhealthy for us, and we may even be able to articulate what the specific problem is, but because that issue does not present itself as something we recognize as life-threatening, we write it off as something that’s to be endured, and may even decide we’re just being ridiculous/silly/wimpy about it. (I would bet that the internal debate about wimpiness is much more common among women than men, though that’s only my supposition.) Would any of us say the same thing about an assailant with a knife? I certainly hope not, but verbal and emotional attacks do us just as much harm as the physical kind. The only difference is that it’s harder to see the wounds and the scars they leave.
So I wonder: Are we making excuses for ourselves? Or are we merely products of a culture that teaches us not to fight back, not to make a fuss or a big deal? Last week I talked about how a good loud shout will draw attention from others nearby and may be enough to scare an attacker away. How many people assault us verbally and emotionally every day only because we never say a single thing to stop them? Our silence is an implicit consent, whether we want to view it that way or not. And a lot of people probably don’t have any idea how much their behavior upsets us because we’re so afraid to get hurt that we don’t say anything. Speaking up just once will stop an unintentional bully right in his or her tracks, and while it may be uncomfortable for a few minutes, it ultimately improves the relationship. It’s a bit like ripping off that bandage, or being careful around thorns so you can enjoy the rose.
I want to close by being very clear on an important point: it’s one thing to know that all these things are true and that setting boundaries is a good idea even if it scares us, but it’s another to put it into practice. I struggle with boundaries as much as anyone else does, so I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is easy for any of us, especially me. It’s not. Some people come to it more naturally than others, but a lot of us wrestle with the idea of putting ourselves out there to get hurt, even if it hurts less than it would if we let things go. If that’s you, please know that you’re not alone. A lot of us are wrestling right along with you, and we’re all hoping to find the courage to do what we know is best for us.
Please feel free to share your experiences with boundaries, and the fears around them, below–especially if you’ve been able to get past those fears and move to a place where this process is more natural to you. I know there are a lot of people who would benefit from your story!